Skip to main content

Not guilty plea for suspect in alleged decade-long Ohio kidnapping

By Dana Ford. Michael Martinez and Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Wed June 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A lawyer says he believes the defense is willing to accept a life sentence
  • Ariel Castro is accused of holding three woman against their will for close to a decade
  • Castro, 52, was indicted last week on 329 counts, including kidnapping and rape
  • The defense signals an effort to forge a "resolution" and avoid trial

(CNN) -- An Ohio man accused of murder, rape and holding three women in a Cleveland house against their will pleaded not guilty Wednesday. His attorney said it was an effort to stave off a death penalty and an arduous trial.

Ariel Castro, 52, wore an orange jumpsuit, kept his head bowed and didn't speak as attorneys entered the plea on their client's behalf at his brief arraignment in a Cleveland courtroom. He was indicted last week on 329 counts.

Defense attorney Craig Weintraub, speaking to reporters after the arraignment, said some charges in the indictment "cannot be disputed." But the plea -- targeting the murder accusations and the specter of a death penalty -- signals an effort to forge a "resolution" and avoid a trial, he said.

Two counts accuse Castro of aggravated murder for purposely causing the unlawful termination of pregnancies. Police say one of the young women he is accused of holding was impregnated five times by Castro, and another bore a child fathered by him.

Ariel Castro's work attendance record
Ariel Castro indicted on 329 counts
Accused Cleveland kidnapper's jail logs
Closer look at Ariel Castro's home

Weintraub told reporters that the plea "requires the prosecutor to continue to evaluate their case and determine whether medical and forensic evidence can actually support an aggravated murder conviction for the death of a fetus and whether the death penalty is warranted."

Rescued women 'happy and safe,' attorneys say

The prosecutor released a statement saying a capital review committee will consider whether the case is appropriate for seeking the death penalty once the indictment process is complete.

Weintraub, Castro's attorney, acknowledged that "in all likelihood, the prosecutor's decision will be predicated upon the opinions of medical and forensic experts, and more importantly, whether the women in this case want this case to go to trial for those limited issues."

"We are very sensitive to the emotional strain and impact that a trial would have on the women, their families and this community," the lawyer said. "Mr. Castro currently faces hundreds of years in prison with the current charges, and it is our hope that we can continue to work toward a resolution to avoid having an unnecessary trial about aggravated murder and the death penalty."

Life during and after the abductions

Ian Friedman, a Cleveland criminal defense attorney, told CNN's Piers Morgan later Wednesday that Castro's defense team appeared to be laying out a scenario that ends with their client spending the rest of his life behind bars.

"Don't bring the death penalty, there will be a plea, let's do life," Friedman said, offering his take on their strategy.

The charges cover only half of the 10 years the three women allegedly were held captive -- from August 2002, when the first of the three disappeared off a Cleveland street, to February 2007.

In addition to the two murder counts, the indictment charges Castro with 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault and one count of possession of criminal tools, prosecutors said.

Castro's case has attracted national attention because of the unusual length and depravity of the alleged crimes. "The horrific brutality and torture that the victims endured for a decade is beyond comprehension," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has said.

'Please don't let me go,' Cleveland kidnap victim told officers

The women were freed last month after one of the three shouted for help while Castro was away from his 1,400-square-foot home.

The women have been identified as Michelle Knight, abducted at age 21 in August 2002; Amanda Berry, who was kidnapped at age 16 in April 2003 and has a 6-year-old daughter allegedly fathered by Castro; and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus, who was 14 when she disappeared in 2004.

Lawyers for the women expressed confidence and satisfaction after the indictment came down last week. Jim Wooley, attorney for Berry and DeJesus, and speaking on behalf of Knight, said Wednesday that "days like today are not easy."

"We understand the legal process needs to run its course," he said. "We are hopeful for a just and prompt resolution. We have great faith in the prosecutor's office and the court."

DeJesus knew Ariel Castro, her family told CNN affiliate WOIO.

She was a good friend of Castro's daughter, Arlene.

One year after DeJesus' disappearance, Arlene Castro publicly crusaded to find her friend's kidnapper. In spring 2005 she went on the national television program "America's Most Wanted" to plead for help in finding her friend.

Ariel Castro gave ex-daughter-in-law the 'heebie-jeebies'

Ariel Castro attended at least two public vigils for the missing girls while they were allegedly inside his home, relatives told WOIO.

Castro, a former school bus driver, remains in a Cleveland jail on $8 million bond.

He made a brief court appearance soon after his arrest.

Handcuffed and wearing a blue jumpsuit, he looked down throughout that hearing and did not speak.

Castro's brothers: Ariel fooled us

CNN's Jason Hanna and Greg Botelho contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Ohio women found
updated 6:36 PM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
Ariel Castro who was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years for kidnapping, raping and holding captive three women was found hanging in his prison cell, authorities said told CNN affiliate WOIO.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus weren't in the courtroom. But their diaries gave authorities a window into the horror they suffered for a decade.
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Sun August 4, 2013
They were living in hell, and Ariel Castro did all he could to make sure they'd never escape it.
updated 6:38 AM EDT, Mon August 5, 2013
Michelle Knight, one of three women kidnapped by Ariel Castro, returned Friday to the Cleveland house where she was chained up and tormented for 11 years, a neighbor said.
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
When her chance came, kidnapping victim Michelle Knight lit into Ariel Castro, the man who held her captive and raped her in his Cleveland home for a decade.
updated 9:54 AM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
The woman's voice wavered, just for a moment.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
From the outside, the home at 2207 Seymour Avenue looked like most any other in Cleveland's Westside neighborhood.
updated 10:06 AM EDT, Tue July 9, 2013
For the first time since their rescue, the world is hearing directly from the three women who were held captive in Cleveland for a decade.
updated 3:57 AM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
For his victims, Thursday was roughly a decade in coming.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Tue July 30, 2013
In his first television interview, Ariel Castro's son said that his dad belongs in prison for the rest of his life and he doesn't plan on ever visiting him.
updated 8:25 PM EDT, Thu May 9, 2013
In retrospect, there were plenty of signs that something was wrong.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
For the first time, take a look inside the Cleveland house where three women were held captive for a decade.
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
When an judge denied a request for Castro to visit the 6-year-old girl he fathered with one of the women he kidnapped and raped, the reason seemed pretty clear.
updated 6:55 AM EDT, Mon May 13, 2013
How the macabre enslavement of two girls and a woman began has deeply disturbed a nation, if not the world.
updated 11:37 AM EDT, Sun May 19, 2013
When the police arrived at Castro's house, it was almost peaceful. As if nobody else was there. And then they heard the sound of scurrying feet upstairs.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon May 13, 2013
Ariel Castro's brothers say he's "a monster" who should rot in jail and they "want the world to know" they had no idea their brother was holding women captive.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
Two were just teenagers when they were kidnapped, but the three women have finally been found a decade later.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Wed May 8, 2013
When Amanda Berry screamed for help through a crack in the front door of the house where she was being held, she set in motion an end to roughly a decade of captivity for herself and two other women.
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Fri May 10, 2013
His Cleveland neighbors are trying to come with grips with the two personas -- the first, they thought they knew, the other, the one that authorities describe.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT